Creating Spencer Makenzie's Fish Company was a labor of love for John and Jennifer Karayan, who spent 20 years perfecting their eclectic Californian recipes before sharing them with the public. Named after the couple's 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, the business began as a concession trailer at festivals and fairgrounds, presenting healthful alternatives to traditional fast-food options without sacrificing speedy service. The concept took off, and the trailer eventually blossomed into a permanent location a couple of blocks from the shore.
Although the chefs use only sashimi-grade fish and make everything from clam chowder to sauces and salsas in-house, they don't stray far from the restaurant's unpretentious fairground roots. The Ventura County Reporter recognized the company's dual commitment to quality and convenience in 2011, honoring the eatery with awards for Best Fish Taco and Best Cheap Eats.
The same thoughtfulness with which John and Jennifer designed the healthful and flavorful menu led them to embrace a variety of environmentally friendly practices. In addition to donating their used trans-fat-free cooking oil to biodiesel refineries, they exclusively stock the restaurant with biodegradable plates, utensils, and employees.
Chalkboards of handwritten specials, an acoustic soundtrack by artists such as Jack Johnson and Bob Marley, and 36-inch flat-screen televisions playing skateboarding, surfing, and sporting events add to Spencer Makenzie's Fish Company's casual, laid-back ambiance. At the same time, photographs of local beaches line the walls and serve as a gentle reminder of the inspiration behind the ocean-fresh menu.
Tucked away in the Ojai Valley, well-concealed paths wend past copses of lush trees to the popular garden sites of The Ranch House. There, diners relax among gentle streams and verdant foliage within an oriental teahouse, or see if they know how to yodel upon two elevated redwoods decks overlooking the grounds. Alan Hooker, a chef renowned for incorporating herbs into simple, yet elegant dishes, founded the Eden-like setting more than 60 years ago.
Lauded on an episode of Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate, the seasonal cuisine includes free-range chicken breast stuffed with brie and grilled swordfish steaks brushed with lemon thyme butter that make them too slippery for traditional mid-dinner duels. To complement those flavors, the restaurant offers an award-winning wine list with approximately 650 selections. After their meal, guests can tour the rest of The Ranch House grounds, working off the meal as they stroll through the herb garden and bakery.
“Good food and cheerful service,” as described by the Ventura Country Star, combine with vibrant mustard-yellow walls at La Herradura Mexican Grill, where a menu of mouthwatering Jalisco dishes transports taste buds to new epicurean shores. Mole sauce marks tender chicken with a scarlet "A" for "awesome" in the mole poblano con pollo ($8), and a dozen types of burrito ($5.50) swaddle succulent fillings in their savory cylinders. Despite its size, the al pastor taco refuses to skimp on flavor, serving up saucy, barbecued pork within a crunchy, crackly shell ($1.50). Diners can treat lips to regional sips of horchata or tamarind tea as they await the tableside delivery of crispy churros, whose deep-fried shell conceals sweet pleasures and rough drafts of the Constitution penned in chocolate syrup ($5.50). Owners Fernando and Virginia Duarte play a hands-on role in the operation of their restaurant, sourcing the ingredients themselves and occasionally serving it to gaggles of hungry fans.
At Java Joe's, guests sip freshly made coffee drinks and graze baked goods, rummage through a collection of eclectic clothing and merchandise, and tap toes to live tunes. Baristas blend aromatic shots of espresso with frothy milk riddled with chocolaty notes to create a 16- or 20-ounce café mocha ($3.85–$4.25). Utilitarian cups of joe ($1.95 for 16 oz.; $2.25 for 20 oz.) fill mugs for on-the-go sippers and bulk beans ($13.95/lb.) allow customers to bring robust flavors and caffeine-jolts home. Pluck a pastry from a bakery filled with treats, such as scones ($2.45), chocolate-filled croissants ($2.95), and cheesecakes ($3.75) that quench food cravings and hush grumbling tummies like a swallowed Paul Simon 8-track.
At the Gourmet Food Truck and Bocce Ball Festival, guests can belly up to 10 gourmet food trucks and sample toothsome fare in between stomping musical performances and competitive games of bocce ball duked out on 12 professional-grade courts. 30 minutes of court rental is covered with admission (teams can sign up at the festival), and 24 teams of four have the option to compete in the single-elimination tournament, vying for the $500 prize and the chance for a photo op with the nation's oldest bocce ball. Each team must pay a fee of $125 for entry into the tournament and the VIP lounge. Elsewhere at the jubilee, the grounds of Limoneira Ranch are speckled with meals on wheels, including sushi truck Temaki and Lickety Split's, a converted yellow school bus that vends frozen yogurt, iced coffee, and chocolate-coated detention slips. Although this Groupon does not cover food or drinks, festival-goers can purchase succulent, Texas–style smoked tri-tip from the It's In the Sauce BBQ food truck or wash back a frozen pomegranate lemonade from Del's.
As Renaissance's resident nail artist, Lori Gonzales wields thoroughly sanitized equipment to trim nails and dress them up in flattering coats of color. Feet ease into a tub padded with disposable liners as they undergo a toe-coddling pedicure, and fingertips receive similarly luxurious treatment above sea level as Lori deftly swabs nails with eye-grabbing shades of polish. Because she emphasizes safety through sterility, Lori employs mostly single-use tools.